The Siddaramaiah-led Congress government in Karnataka affected a major cabinet reshuffle on Sunday in what is seen as an effort to shake off lethargy in the government and prepare the ground for the 2018 assembly polls.
The cabinet rejig saw 14 ministers in the 34-member ministry being shown the door while 13 new ministers were inducted. One berth has been left vacant as a strategy to keep dissidence in check among ministerial aspirants who failed to make the cut on Sunday.
While the strategy of leveraging the caste factor in Karnataka is at the heart of the reshuffle, other factors like poor performance of some ministers, regional balance, the power equations of some aspirants with the party high command, the need to infuse more youthful energy and the need to stop criticism from respected leaders within the party have all played a significant role in the re-jig.
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With the Congress lacking a strong mass leader from the Lingayat community (the sizable and influential population allied with the BJP in Karnataka’s northern districts) to take on the BJP’s state president B S Yeddyurappa, the Congress has maintained a high Lingayat number in its cabinet through the reshuffle.
With veteran Congress leaders from the Lingayat community Shamanur Shivashankarappa and S R Patil being eased out of government on account of age and wellness factors, the party has brought in Shamanur’s son S S Mallikarjun and the younger, well read Basavaraj Rayareddy as new ministers.
The Lingayat ratio in the Congress government is the highest with as many as eight of 33 ministers belonging to the community.
With the Congress party standing on the platform of minorities, backward classes and Dalits, some of the attention in the reshuffle has been on maintaining the balance among these communities while bringing in younger leaders.
Veteran leader V Srinivas Prasad, a scheduled caste man from south Karnataka who has been unwell, was forced to exit as revenue minister on account of the entry of Priyank Kharge, the son of Mallikarjun Kharge – the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha. Prasad has accused Mallikarjun Kharge of being blinded by his love for his son and abandoning loyalists.
The entry of Kharge’s son at the cost of Srinivas Prasad keeps the number of ministers from Dalit communities in the government at six – the second highest. It has however reduced the strength of Kharge loyalists in the government since chief minister Siddaramaiah’s word has prevailed in the dropping of veterans Qamarul Islam and Baburao Chinchansur from Kharge’s Gulbarga region.
The exit of Qamarul Islam has been offset by the introduction of the more youthful Tanveer Sait and keeps the number of Muslim ministers in the Siddaramaiah cabinet at three.
The introduction of two veterans in the cabinet – Kagodu Thimappa and K R Ramesh Kumar – has gone against the grain of youth infusion and is widely seen as an effort to stop their frequent criticism of the government. The entry of Thimappa from the Shimoga region has cost primary education minister Kimmane Rathnakar his berth while the entry of Ramesh Kumar from the Brahmin community has cost young Congress leader Dinesh Gundu Rao.
The entry of mining businessman Santosh Lad and educationist M R Seetharam into the cabinet despite not having any major caste affiliations is seen as being linked to their money power and equations with leaders in the high command.
The dominant Vokkaliga community is one that has lost out in the cabinet reshuffle with minister M H Ambareesh and Kimmane Rathnakar among those eased out leaving only four ministers from the community and triggering dissent from several MLAs from the community. The Congress is expected to try to assuage the situation by appointing Vokkaliga leader and energy minister D K Shivakumar as the new state president in the coming days.